One of Graham Greene’s most recognisable pieces is brought to the silver screen in a new cinematic adaptation directed by Rowan Joffe. 2011 sees ‘Pinkie’ the self interested ambitious gangster played by Sam Riley, acclaimed for his performance in ‘Control’. ‘Brighton Rock’ was last seen in a widely released film production in John Boulting’s 1947 well received British gangster film. Starring Richard Attenborough in arguably his finest performance. To take on the classic 1938 novel as well as the successful 1947 film would be a brave task, let alone a debut feature. Rumours have circulated that Martin Scorsese even once considered a related project.
Joffe set his adaptation in 1960’s Brighton immediately attempting to give himself distance from Boulting’s piece. By doing so he manages to capture the unrest and new found impatience of the British youth to be noticed. The film noir presence is unapologetic, swinging light bulbs in dark claustrophobic rooms, male protagonists in trench coats who are near unlikeable and the seedy underworld of constant gambling.
“I was terrified of adapting a classic novel in the shadow of a classic film but I did it because I love the story and when you are in love with something or someone you do not act rationally,” ……..”I told the story because I love it. Some critics will never forgive me but it just made it all the more exciting.” - Rowan Joffe- Director
‘Pinkie’ appears in the novel as violent and selfish but he still manages to retain a small sense of sympathy due to lack of options, which does not translate well in Riley’s depiction. The familiarity of Greene’s male figures comes with an angry, confused but still present moral undercurrent. Greene’s work explores individual spiritually how this transcends into paths taken and choices. Nonetheless Riley proves his acting capability is no fluke and displays a wide range regarding previous work. Nieve waitress Rose is acutely played by Andrea Riseborough who conveys Rose as shy, awkward and genuine. A role which could have easily annoyed viewers becomes empathetic as she tries to forge a way out of her mundane bleak future through the initial excitement of Pinkies advances. Helen Mirren approaches her portrayal of Ida, Rose’s boss with a fierce sense of complexity, noting she may be overprotective due to a harsh life and sets about uncovering the true nature of Pink’s intentions.
John Mathieson culptivates stunning scenes by recreating the street riots and confrontations between the Mods on scooters and Rockers on moterbikes. It should be noted that these moments in the film are although historical still created from scratch and have no initial place in Greene’s work perhaps giving the film an orginal edge. The juxopisition of Brighton pier in all it’s 1960’s seaside glory with the undertone of brutality concerning rival gangs is captivating. Rowan Joffe’s debut feature shows immense potential as a director and while his adaptation of ‘Brighton Rock’ is over shadowed by expectation and Boulting’s 1947 piece, it does display exhibit great British talent to watch.